The Secret to Global Prosperity? Empower Women

Our last feature for Women’s History Month looks at the role women have in growing the global economy. Guess what — It’s an important one.

Image Source: Padmanaba01/Creative Commons


When Christine Lagarde assumed leadership of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011, she became the first women to lead the organization since it was founded in the aftermath of World War II. Her position at the top of IMF leadership makes her one of the most powerful women in the world, and she hasn’t been shy about using her pulpit to advocate for greater women’s economic empowerment — and women around the world can certainly gain from having an advocate in the highest office of an international financing body.

As many of our posts for Women’s History Month have detailed, gender norms and patriarchal values have consistently devalued women throughout the centuries, leading to increased vulnerabilities to violence, poverty, and unemployment. Globally, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the female labor force participation rate is just about 50%, but in South Asia the participation rate is even lower, at about 30%. Women are overrepresented in the informal sector, and they do the bulk of the unpaid labor in this world.

Things only got worse for women after the financial crisis hit. The crisis destroyed 13 million jobs for women and more than half of the women worldwide remain in vulnerable employment. In its 2012 assessment of global employment trends for women, the ILO concluded that things would likely not be getting better any time soon.

But we can’t let things stay the way they are. It’s an injustice to women and it comes at a detriment to global prosperity. Writing on the IMF’s official blog for last year’s International Women’s Day, Lagarde noted, “Women have huge talents. Employers who don’t offer equal opportunities to women simply ignore a large part of the skilled workforce.”

There’s research to back up her claim. A recent IMF study found that there are quantifiable economic gains from a more inclusive labor force — so if a more equitable society isn’t enough to convince you that women should be empowered economically, let the numbers convince you otherwise.

According to the study, “GDP per capita losses attributable to gender gaps in the labor market have been estimated at up to 27 percent in certain regions.” Creating a more hospital working environment and labor market for women can help recoup the losses and then some. Women in the developing world have an especially strong potential to contribute to their countries’ economies, but among advanced economies as well, women can help offset economic losses from aging populations and shrinking labor forces.

On the micro level, there is also significant impact when women have greater economic and decision-making power. Women’s work is often the single most important factor in reducing poverty among families in the working world because women are more likely to invest in activities that pay dividends in the long-run, like education for their children. Studies also show that having more women in upper level management and in boards can bring significant gains to a company—women (and more diversity in general) helps broaden a company’s perspective, and women can mitigate against the high risk trading activities of men in finances. If you need a recent, real world example of how women in leadership roles helps a company, look at Vietnam where the number of companies led by female CEOs has tripled in the past five years.

Women have a lot of to contribute, and many women have great potential to lead. Let’s recognize that and work on creating an enabling environment that helps be at their best. It’s for the good of everyone.

Up next, we’ll talk to LEAP, an NGO doing work in Malaysia where women are at the forefront of a rural green economy.

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